Thursday, July 29, 2010

What Bothers Me About "Inception" Buzz

Spoilers: This post has them.

Inception is a cool movie, visually speaking. But beyond that, I don't think it has much. Leonardo DiCaprio's character is the only one who is developed, but all we get is that he loves/loved his wife and loves his children. The character of the mark (the son of the dying business man) is developed a little, he seeks his father's acceptance (this is pretty thin, though).

A lot of the material I've seen online says how amazing this film is. I agree it is visually amazing. But that's not what people are talking about, it's the question of what was real and what was a dream and whose dream it was.

And all of that is irrelevant.

Does it matter if the ending scene is a dream or not? No. It doesn't. Not one bit. Because these aren't real people, and we don't learn anything about anyone from it being a dream and wondering whose dream it may be. Does it matter which scene belonged to which dreamer, and were there clues that we had been mislead? Irrelevant. That may be fun, but it doesn't tell us anything. Is it revealing about the characters? No, because it needs to be revealed more clearly, and even if it is, so what? They're characters in a movie, they're not real, there is no insight here except about what the writer, director, and producers wanted to do in the film.

Does it matter if Leonardo DiCaprio's character has been in a dream the whole time? (I think we see the spinning top work at some point, but I don't exactly recall.) No, it doesn't. It's a movie, it's not real, it itself is like a dream. There is no reality in it. If LDC's character is in a dream at the end, then he's in his dreamworld fiction inside a movie fiction, so it's fiction. If he's not in a dream at the end, then he's in the movie's real world inside a movie fiction, so it's fiction. It does not matter. There is no weighty intellectual discussion here, unless you're in college and you think you're much smarter than you actually are (and then it is neither weighty nor intellectual, but sadly it is a discussion).

It's not even as if dream and unreality sequences are new to science fiction movies, we've seen it with the Matrix, but we've seen it before with stories such as The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. The Wizard of Oz is old, it was written in 1900. That doesn't mean it isn't an enthralling idea 110 years later, but we've seen it before.

Visually Inception is a great, fun, inventive, beautiful movie. Beyond that, it's pretty standard. There's nothing wrong with that, but all of these people and critics think there is something weighty about the dreams. There isn't.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


"It's this right here. Hanging out with your friends and fellow artists."

(Reminds me of ICA, and my "once a year" friends, as it should, since it's the same fundamental human need, the need to connect and form communities.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Guitar vs. Guitar Hero

I was pointed out to me by my brother that playing the guitar is a lot like playing a video game: There are certain things you need to do with your fingers at certain times, and you need to memorize the moves (either specifically or generally) before you try it so it works out better.

He's right.

Having played electronic games for over two and a half decades, and finally poking about working on the ukulele, it's entirely true. It isn't true for all types of all computer games, but for example with games on the Xbox 360 or the PS3, you need to know which buttons and triggers to mash when. Some games on computers are finger-twiddlers (mash buttons!). But usually not just any buttons, the right ones at the right times. Which means, your fingers have to be in the right place at the right time, just like fingering for chords on a guitar or other stringed instrument (bass, banjo, ukulele, upright, violin, etc.).

I can see a future where the current Guitar Hero and Rock Band guitar necks don't just have five buttons and a few other controls on the body (see Rock Band guitar info), they have some larger amount depending on the complexity of the device. A ukulele has four strings, so four across by however many you want down the neck. Basses usually have four (although I have a bass with five). Guitars typically have six strings, so six buttons across by the number you have coming down the neck. A great deal more buttons, but the idea and the skills are exactly the same. Where are my fingers positioned, and when? In the TV show Californication, the young daughter plays guitar and also Guitar Hero. Can Guitar Hero be a lead-in to guitar playing? I'm not sure if it is, but it could be.

Here's a good point by my friend Dr. Matthew Bietz. I totally forgot to think about the next step, of production versus consumption. In guitar games, we are consumers, and copy (to some extent) the music. With a real guitar, you make your own music, or make riffs on things, or play things slightly differently and that can be a good thing. Production is much more powerful, on an important, fundamental human level.

The tagline for LittleBigPlanet by Sony and Media Molecule is Play. Create. Share., and when we play music together, that is what we are doing. Playing, creating, and sharing are all community building and community reinforcing activities, and since we are driven to connect, they are all important. Playing a guitar game, there is play, but there is no create and share.
[End Addition]

Ukulele... You may not have much love for the ukulele, but here are some things that may help you down the path.

Walk Don't Run by amazing little Japanese crocheted guys.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps covered by Jake Shimabukuo (who has his own YouTube channel). Over 5.5 million views. He goes nuts at 2:40, although there are hints of what is to come earlier and you should watch the entire video anyway. Amazing.

Here he is, at 1:10 he demonstrates the range of the ukulele. And he's at TED. Most of you have not been invited to TED. TED? Very cool. TED = ukulele.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Madness of Crowds

"The wisdom of crowds" was never a wise saying, really it referred to how if you have a big enough group of people, a few of them will know something about the problem at hand. It's just statistics.

Sadly we have reminders about the madness, and thus lack of wisdom, of crowds all the time. There was just one recently at a music festival in Germany, where 19 people died and over 340 were injured.

I just came across this new Cocktail Party Physics post about the inanity of Amazon user reviews (that's the crowd at work, remember). I think part of the problem is explained, of course, by the Penny Arcade Internet F***-wad theory. I know that's not polite terminology, but they did name it first, and deserve credit for proposing it. Not that all Amazon reviews are anonymous, but many are only tied to an account name. The "audience" in the theory is also called a "crowd" just to be clear. Not that crowds are all wisdom, or all madness, we know people behave differently in crowds (or, as a crowd), and that you will some diversity of people in the crowd, but that depends on the makeup of the crowd of course. Nothing new to see here, oh the waste of ink and bandwidth is unfortunate.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

"So Much For The Dell Model."

I recall the hype about "the Dell process" or "the Dell way" or whatever it was (model, their manufacturing process), and the jealousy Michael Dell had over Apple's success. We Apple fans (and maybe some others) liked to refer to Dell as "Dull" since they made dull beige boxes.

Turns out their great production process wasn't. It was all accounting tricks. Reminds me of Enron, really. You would think people would wise up, although I guess the people who are dumb enough to think they are smart enough to break the rules are also the ones who aren't smart enough to make it work or get away with it. You could blame some of the losses on the economy, but Apple is doing fine.

So, the SEC has released some internal Dell emails where the Dell people discuss how they are only making their quarterly targets with a little side money from Intel. Or, a lot. Dell's quarterly target should have been "make great computers."

My headline is from the writeup by Ashlee Vance.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Flawed Comparisons

Some comparisons really don't work, but are presented as if they are spot-on. Here's one from CNN's "Smartest People in Tech" that I found amusing, from #2 CEO Jeff Bezos' writeup (which comes after #1 CEO, Steve Jobs).

...virtually every iPad review compares Steve Jobs' tablet to Bezos' device.

Well yes of course, since readers aren't going to know of any of the few other touchpad devices out there (not touch phones, but touch pads). Although why you'd compare the two, when the Kindle does only one thing (and will probably stay that way) and the iPad... well, as the advertisement goes, there's an app for that, it's not a great comparison outside of the form factor and that the two devices are contemporaries.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Feep and The Purple Pants

This is the current opening to my book proposal, trying to ground the higher-level ideas in an understandable and positive story. Granted, it's a story about pants, but a little bit of humor is good too.

One evening, when I was playing Sony’s massively multiplayer online game EverQuest II, one of my guildmates, whose character’s name is Feep, dropped a link for a pair of pants into the guild chat channel. He had just killed some evil creature, and the pants were part of the treasure he had received. Specifically these pants were torn purple pantaloons, which I had never heard of before. The name was unusual. I clicked on the link in the chat window to learn more about these purple pants. Up came the item description and statistics for the pants. They had a spell on them, called rage, that gave the wearer increased strength and stamina but took away intelligence and wisdom. These were not your typical pants or armor from the mythical world of EverQuest II, these were something quite different that really had no place in the game. They didn’t belong to any creature in the game, and they were from another company’s intellectual property altogether. These purple pants belonged to The Hulk from Marvel Comics.

Feep’s purple pants are just one example of the many ways connection and play are experienced on the Internet. People are playful, so Feep and I, and many others, were playing EverQuest II (often called EQII) at that moment. People like to connect, so the creators of EQII at Sony designed the game so that players would do better if they joined forces. People can form long-term guilds, and Feep and I were members of the same guild (although we had never met in real life). The programmers at Sony also made a guild chat channel, so all guild members could text chat with one another, because we like to connect, and communication builds and strengthens a community like a guild. Sharing can strengthen communities as well, and Feep was sharing information.

The homage to The Hulk was playful. The pants had to be made and placed in the game. People can make in-game items—from the mundane, like arrows, to the more spectacular, like fish tanks, and to the completely unnecessary, like toilets. People are driven to create things and are not just passive consumers. Players also make a lot of things about the game that are not in the game, such as guild websites and wikis.

But the pants were not created by players. EQII does not allow players that level of creativity. The Hulk’s purple pants were instead playfully made by the programmers at Sony. All people are driven to play, and play itself is a behavior that builds community.

To play EverQuest II, you need a computer that is connected to the Internet. Although EQII is in some ways tightly controlled (such as with what players can make), in other ways it is not (such as with the text and voice chat channels). The Internet is controlled much less than EQII, which was why Sony could go ahead and make the game run over the Internet without asking anyone’s permission to do so. EQII works, in part, because it runs over the open Internet, and players can make websites, wikis, and have real-life meet-ups. EQII as a whole takes place in many more places than just the EQII game world. EQII works because the designers knew that people like to play and, more importantly, like to connect.

The story of Feep and the purple pants highlights two fundamental human drives: the drive to connect and the drive to play.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Connect, in Serial Format

Since enough of my book is written and off at publishers where it should get picked up, I thought I'd present some of the writing and ideas here in condensed, serialized form. The working title is Connect: Why the Internet Works, or perhaps Connect and Play: Why the Internet Works, but I am partial to the shorter title. (Note that is is not How the Internet Works, as one of my friends objected that Why might be about TCP/IP which it is not, this is why, not how.)

Why it works is because it allows people to connect.

The major sections are the introduction, the Internet, CompuServe, Videotex, and the conclusion. The Internet is the majority of the work since it is the system that is still with us, the one that succeeded where the others failed over time (although CompuServe was with us for a long time). All three systems were started or conceived of in the late 1960s (videotex is a bit different since it is not a system like the other two, but a type of system, but the comparison works and is still narratively compelling).

I look at what we do with the Internet, and discuss two fundamental human drives that are important for what we do online: the drive to connect (with others) and the drive to play. These are what make the Internet work.

CompuServe and videotex didn't allow people to connect enough, or to be playful enough with content. CompuServe adjusted over time, but couldn't compete. Videotex was designed with control in mind, and failed miserably (no no, Mintel was different, that's a long story, but it wasn't at all like any of the US videotex efforts although no one over here seemed to realize that).

People are extremely social (the drive to connect), and many mammals (and even some birds and octopi) are playful creatures. When a systems allows us to be who we are, we use it and it succeeds. This is not just true in life but also a key to success in business (for example, see the books Drive by Daniel Pink and the IDEO book The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley).

Most of the book looks at what we do online in a social way, so most of my examples and ideas will be based on Internet activities.

Look for posts with the Connect label. This is the first intentional one under the idea that I am going to do so, but I have some previous posts that stem from the work, so I'll go back and put the Connect label on them as well.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

iPhone 4 Antenna Issues, Explained

The first thorough, understandable, and yet technological explanation of the iPhone 4 antenna issue that I have seen is over at TidBITS, an article by Rich Mogull. Well worth several minutes of your time.